Sunday, February 10, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- WriteWise: BookWise Branches Out

A while back, I blogged about BookWise, a multilevel marketing scheme focusing on books. (That post earned me some nasty comments from BookWise Associates. I daresay what follows will earn me a few more.)

BookWise, now a little over a year old, has just launched BookWise Publishing, which offers a program for aspiring writers called WriteWise. "Do you have a book in you? Have you dreamed of becoming a published author?" asks the WriteWise brochure. "Realize your aspiration of writing, publishing, and marketing a bestselling book through WriteWise from BookWise Publishing."

How does it work? Here's a list of program benefits, from the website of one of the BookWise Associates who is offering to sign writers up for the program (there are numerous similar WriteWise websites, many of which employ identical templates). These include a variety of mentoring services (including a two-day "intense" seminar--the qualifications of the seminar staff are...interesting); guaranteed publication of your book by BookWise Publishing; various editing, design, and promotional services (you can judge cover design quality here); 50 softcover copies of your book; and endorsement by BookWise founders Richard Paul Evans and Robert G. Allen.

If you think this sounds too good to be true, you're right. Here's the bottom line:

For anyone who is a serious writer, you will know that the benefits described above could easily cost you $20,000 - $30,000 from individuals far less knowledgeable or connected than Richard Paul Evans and Robert G. Allen.....

However, this program will NOT cost you tens of thousands of dollars.... for you to become a SERIOUS published author in 2008 the cost to you is......

only $5995...


So...basically, WriteWise is vanity publishing.

And that's not all. WriteWise isn't just a pay-to-publish program for writers--it's an income opportunity for BookWise Associates. For every participant they sign up, Associates get a $1,000 commission. That's some hefty dough for encouraging aspiring writers to vanity publish.

(There's actually some discrepancy regarding program costs. While the websites linked above all say that it's $5,995, the WriteWise brochure says it's $4,995. Why the difference? Price hikes, judging by this entry from the official BookWise blog. The first WriteWise session apparently cost $3,995; for the second, the fee went up to $4,995. I guess we're now on on Round 3.)

There's another twist to the story. For writers accepted into WriteWise, Richard Paul Evans and Robert G. Allen will become their literary agents, receiving, according to the WriteWise brochure, "the standard agency fee [of] 15% of the royalties that an author receives from the publisher." The brochure makes it clear, however, that not every book will be shopped: "...depending upon circumstances, BookWise Publishing may also present your book to other major publishers." In this arrangement, most of the benefit is on the agents' side: they don't actually have to do anything for you (unlike in a normal author-agent relationship), but if they do, they get paid twice.

WriteWise does seem to employ some selectivity--would-be participants are evaluated by a "book producer" (whatever that is), and payment is refunded to those who aren't accepted into the program. This should prevent writers who are completely unpublishable from spending six thousand dollars on a pipe dream. Yet selectivity has a flip side. If only competent writers are chosen, people who actually are publishable may wind up paying a small fortune for a program they don't need.

All of this leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. I'm also seriously non-thrilled by the way that Associates are apparently being encouraged to pitch the program. According to one Associate website, WriteWise "will save you tens of thousands of dollars, and years of frustration and rejection." According to another, "WriteWise is a program that lets you become a published author for considerably less than the standard costs associated with book publishing." Claims yet another, "Traditionally people have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to get published and now thanks to Write Wise, paying such a high cost is no longer necessary." Such inducements are incredibly misleading and exploitive, playing as they do upon the ignorance of aspiring writers, who may believe that there is always a cost involved with publishing, or that paying to publish is a viable way of starting a writing career.

Of course, BookWise/WriteWise is an MLM scheme. MLM schemes are not really about the product or the customer--they're about building your group of income-generating associates. Given the vulnerability of new authors, however, this seems like an especially unscrupulous way to make a buck.

22 comments:

Brian said...

Wow. Misleading isn't it.

Thanks for the heads up Victoria.

paul maurice martin said...

I wonder exactly what it is that all these companies are cashing in on.

Speaking personally, I never had much of an abstract desire to write. I wrote well from early on, but it wasn't until I found myself with something to say – and found a creative process crystallizing around that – that I started writing. Not writing, at that point, would have been harder than writing.

There must be a very large number of people who like the idea of being a writer to support the scale of this kind of business activity. Maybe before wading into any of it, people should ask themselves why they want to write.

Gregory Ludwig said...

Regarding your:

"Such inducements are incredibly misleading and exploitive, playing as they do upon the ignorance of aspiring writers, who may believe that there is always a cost involved with publishing, or that paying to publish is a viable way of starting a writing career."

...your points are well taken regarding BookWise. They are stupid, or grossly mendacious, to think they can claim a self-publisher working through them can save much $ on the inevitable cost of publishing a book. Clearly, writers must understand that whether they publish in the usual way (publisher pays for production) or via self-publishing or vanity publishing, there are large costs associated with producing a book. (Also, I can recall that in about the late '80s or early '90s, a distinction was made between vanity publishing--e.g., Vantage Press--and self-publishing, which is more classy.)

Among the various comments that can be made here, I would point out that, from my perspective, it is a little unrealistic to think you can have a "career" as a writer if you publish the publisher-pays way. Whether due to the increasing risk-benefit-type thinking of publishers (do you have a platform? have you sold a lot of previous books?), or the sheer luck involved in getting all the books you finish writing published, a career is not an easy bet for anyone. Having worked as an editor for about 16 years, I have so many negative observations to make about parts of the publishing world that the very least and most general thing I can say is that publishing is a difficult field in which to have a career, requiring an unusual amount of dedication (or a tendency to default to it due to lack of other skills or training). So it may be almost as misleading as some of BookWise's claptrap to suggest that a career as a writer is about as easy as it is respectable. (Not that you are necessarily saying it is flat-out easy.)

Janny said...

What never fails to boggle my mind is how schemes like this keep going in the first place, with all the information available to pretty much anyone with access to a computer. Not that all information available online is reliable--but a few clicks on a search engine would reveal that a place like this, at the very least, should be approached with caution.

That being said, however, as recently as six months ago I got a phone call at my day gig from a woman trying to pitch a book over the phone (!)...who, when I mentioned that I had published a novel, asked, "How much did that cost you?"

I was so stunned that for a second I wasn't sure whether to laugh or not--I thought she was pulling my leg. Turns out it took all the persuasive powers at my disposal to convince her that real live publishers pay YOU, not the other way around. She honestly didn't know any better.

Which still boggles the mind. I know it shouldn't...but it does.

Janny

Cheryl Pickett said...

I agree with the others that it's awful that people who know some real informaion (folks at Bookwise) stil insist on coming up with ways to: a)continually make publishing look bad b)take money from people who most often cannot afford it and don't know what they don't know.

Thanks for what you do.

Mark said...

So in essence Evans has taken his good fortune in self-publishing and ran over to the Dark Side as a snake oil salesman. Nice. I wonder what tenants of humanity that comes from?

jeffrey Dobkin said...

Thanks so much for your blogs. The more I read them, the better they get. It's refreshing to see there is hope for writers to be placed on a clear path by good people.
I've checked the link you had for Bookwise and found in their one short paragraph description for the book pictured on their site they had one typo ("It is compelling read") and also included a sentence with 5 commas. For publishers and editors, they should take a better look at their own work first. I doubt it gets any better for clients.

ALC said...

"Realize your aspiration of writing, publishing, and marketing a bestselling book through WriteWise from BookWise Publishing."

I love the way they use the word "bestselling." It's little words like that that stick in people's minds. It makes the un-informed think that this is possible just by handing over a nice, fat check.

zizban said...

How do these people sleep?

Lee Goldberg said...

Victoria,

You (and your blog) are doing writers a real service... not only are your posts informative, revealing, and brutally honest, they are very entertaining, too. You are one of the best, and most useful, resources on the Internet for aspiring writers. Keep up the great work!

Lee

barbarienne said...

WriteWise does seem to employ some selectivity--would-be participants are evaluated by a "book producer" (whatever that is), and payment is refunded to those who aren't accepted into the program.

-->Yeah, I'll believe that when they reject Travis Tea. I'm betting their editorial standards are on a par with PA's.

WriteWise "will save you tens of thousands of dollars, and years of frustration and rejection."

-->Hmm, yes. I'm sure all those authors with their contracts from RandomHouse, S&S, etc. spent tens of thousands of dollars. Oh, no, wait, most of them earned thousands of dollars. Silly me! Got it backward!

Years of frustration because I can't sell copies of a book I paid to have printed is not an adequate substitute for years of frustration trying to convince an agent or editor to buy it from me.

"WriteWise is a program that lets you become a published author for considerably less than the standard costs associated with book publishing."

-->Yes, but those standard costs are typically absorbed by the publisher, not the writer.

"Traditionally people have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to get published and now thanks to Write Wise, paying such a high cost is no longer necessary."

-->Historically (not "traditionally") very few people have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to get published. Of those few, most were duped into it by "publishers" asking for that money and telling them it was "traditional" to pay money for publication.

Paying such a high cost has never been necessary. The existence of WriteWise hasn't changed that. The existence of WW hasn't even made vanity publishing cheaper. PA is a bargain, except for the hole frauds-crushing-your-dreams thing. Lulu.com manages to be quite reasonable without any lies at all!

Alison Moore Smith said...

Interesting read. I don't begrudge you your opinion. I'm withholding mine at the moment.

There are a few errors in your blog entry. (They may not all be your fault, as not all the information disseminated by every person is accurate.) For example, the book "A Train to Potevka" was written by a WriteWise author, but BookWise was not responsible for the cover or any part of this edition of the book. The author self-published some time ago and has been hawking the book himself. (I met him months ago, sitting at a book signing in a local Costco.) He joined WW to learn to improve and market his book and has done quite well. That is the case with at least one other author I know.

I am a public speaker, speaking at education conventions where I'm always asked if I have a book with my speech information. I don't and have missed a big opportunity. I need a book, but writing/publishing hasn't been my focus. (With six kids, I have many more important things on my plate.) To me, WW was a way to finally get this done and available to my audience. Some of us simply have more money than time. Paying someone to step me through all this may not be the worst idea on the planet.

I'm blogging the experience. The first session has not been without some bumps, but overall, so far, it's been very helpful in many ways to me. I'm happy, however, to point out problems and flaws.

WW will certainly not be for everyone, but it may well serve a market niche. I think the bashing is a bit premature. The result might be just as you say, but it might turn out to be a valuable service.

I'll keep plugging along and write my thoughts as I go. If it turns out to be a great value for me, I hope you'll at least acknowledge as much. I'll be the first to speak up if I don't think it was worth the money.

FWIW, Evans and Allen are wonderful to work with.

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I am, as we speak, deciding whether to join Write Wise. I attended a free teleclass last night and was "interviewed" today by their team and accepted. I asked for a night to think on it. I've read most of what's posted here, but need a little more info.. I have no clue where to begin to get published and they seem to offer the perfect solution to that. What is the better way?

Thanks!

Victoria Strauss said...

I have no clue where to begin to get published and they seem to offer the perfect solution to that. What is the better way?

The better way is to try and sell your book to a publisher that will pay you, not the other way around.

One of the things that drives writers to vanity- or self-publishing is that they believe, or have been told, that established agents and publishers won't work with first-time authors. This is simply a myth--nothing could be farther from the truth. I'm not saying it's easy. But first-time writers are signed by reputable agents and commercial publishers all the time.

What do you have to lose, anyway, by trying? Maybe you won't be able to sell your book to a commercial publisher--but you'll never know if you don't try. Start at the top, and work your way down. You can always revisit the idea of paying to publish.

Have a look at my recent post on Learning the Ropes for some suggestions on how to start learning about how the commercial publishing industry works and what you need to do to get published legitimately. If you have any questions after reading it, write me at beware@sfwa.org.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Victoria! I'll read your post immediately. Even with the positive post here regarding Write Wise, are you still completely against it?

Thanks.

Victoria Strauss said...

Even with the positive post here regarding Write Wise, are you still completely against it?

I have three responses.

First, paying to publish--whether by true self-publishing or through one of the self-publishing services such as AuthorHouse--tends to work best for nonfiction projects with a specialized niche audience that the author knows how to reach directly, or for people who can exploit "back of the room" situations--for instance, someone with a lecturing or speaking career who can sell books at their speaking engagements. More generalized nonfiction, and most fiction, are much less suited to self-publishing. Certainly, there've been some big successes (there are also plenty of apocryphal self-publishing success stories, like the myth that John Grisham self-published his first novel) but these are news mostly because they are so extremely unusual. Most self-published books never make back their authors' investments. If you're interested in a traditional writing career--readership, critical attention, professional credibility, and making money from your writing--commercial publishing (i.e., a publisher that pays an advance and gets its books into brick-and-mortar bookstores) is still the best way to go.

Second, if you do want to pay to publish, there are many, many options out there, from true self-publishing--where you contract out every aspect of the publishing job yourself, hiring--to book manufacturers--somewhat like old-style vanity publishing, where you pay several thousand dollars and the company produces a book for you--to true DIY online services such as Lulu.com. It really behooves anyone who is considering self-publishing to do some careful comparison shopping to determine which option best suits his or her needs. There's also huge variation in prices, and some of the options are a good deal cheaper than WriteWise.

Third, I simply think the way that the WriteWise service is being promoted is sleazy. No third party should be enriched by your use of a pay-to-publish service--but with WriteWise, the associate who brings you into the program gets a large commission. This gives the associate a strong incentive to make the referral whether or not the referral is in your best interest. If whoever is inviting you into the WriteWise system can get $1,000 for signing you up, why should they care if the service will really be the best option for you? Really, it's very much like the kickbacks paid by fake editing service Edit Ink and vanity publisher Commonwealth Publications
to literary agents who sent potential clients their way.

All else aside...before paying several thousand dollars for a publishing service, you truly owe it to yourself to research all the possibilities. If you ultimately decide on WriteWise, it should be an informed decision--not one made out of desperation, or because you don't know what the alternatives are, or because of the enticements of people who will make money on your decision.

Lisa said...

Interesting read.

I have not been through the WriteWise program, but know several who are in the program or have graduated from it. All I have heard are rave reviews!

There are a few things misleading about this post.

WriteWise does not publish the books. It is a training program, that helps teach people how to writer better, how to select a winning title, what publishers looks for in different genres, etc. It is not a vanity publishing house. It's more like an intensive writing and publishing series of workshops. It's an education program.

I know of a very well known, New York Times best-selling author (multiple bestsellers) that felt that the services offered were a money saver and enrolled herself.

WriteWise helps prepare you so the manuscript to more likely to get accepted by the publishers. A friend of mine has had her book accepted by Hay House, and two others friends have had their book picked-up by publishers. Another had already self-published a book. She learned of ways to improve the book at WriteWise and it was then picked-up by a publisher as a result. They did not pay the publishers any money. They simply paid WriteWise for the knowledge and skills that they could learn about writing and the publishing industry.

So there it is. My two cents worth on the program.

Victoria Strauss said...

Lisa,

At the time I wrote this post, WriteWise was most definitely a publishing program, as this solicitation makes clear.

I've blogged more recently about WriteWise and BookWise. BookWise is defunct; it isn't clear to me whether WriteWise is still a going concern or not. The "purchase" buttons on its website don't seem to work.

All the things you cite as WriteWise's advantages can be accomplished by writers on their own--by practicing and researching their craft, by taking writing classes at a local college, by seeking out writing groups or participating in peer critique groups. There's no reason whatever to pay nearly $7,000 for "knowledge and skills" that can be acquired for free or at a much lower cost. (And I am being charitable in assuming that WriteWise's program actually does provide writers with knowledge and skills, as opposed to simply shilling the unattainable pipe dream of best-selling authordom.)

As for what you say about that well-known author, your friend whose book was accepted by Hay House, and other writers who've been picked up by publishers as a result of the "training" they got from WriteWise--I'd be more inclined to take it seriously if you provided names and/or book titles instead of making unverifiable claims.

Faith Morgan said...

I would have to agree that this is unusual to say the least

Lizzie Farmer said...

I saw Richard Paul Evans on television several weeks ago talkng about this Write Wise program. I had already contracted with another company by then which was later bought out by another publisher. My book, "Lizzie's Blue Ridge Memories," is offered through Amazon. My illustrator is Disney's Jared Beckstrand who also worked for Swan Animation.
So, you are probably asking yourself, why I am writing. Here is the reason. I donated some books for circulation to several libraries, only to find that they sell them in used book sales !!! I specifically told them I was a local author and these were for circulation. So, I was told that if the book was not nationally reviewed, they had no interest in it. I could have sold them myself and got more than the pennies thy went for, and would have felt better about it. It doesn't matter that this is a true story, that a man who works for Disney illustrated it, that I am doing a book signing in Las Vegas next month, that people are asking for the special large print edition that I made for the libraries or that celebrities like Jeff Daniels have a copy. (Dolly Parton may be receiving her copy later this week courtesy of her sister-in-law, Doris, who I do research with.) No, none of this matters because I am not nationally reviewed.
So how do I get nationally reviewed? I just do not see this happening. My book is not politically correct. Unless I am a celebrity like Madonna (who never went to college to learn how to write a book) or unless I write a book about two grandmothers running off together to live happily ever after (which is perfectly alright, I just don't see why it makes a childrens' book suddenly popular) then I don't have a shot!
My book is along the lines of, "Little House on the Prairie," or Forrest Carter's "The Education of Little Tree." The children run around the farm without constant parental supervsion, the Grandpa chews tobacco, the mother learns how to shoot a gun and worker cows are exploited.
So, now do you see my dilemma? What can I do to get an endorsement? How can I get a national review? I realize that my little book is not relevant to today's PC world, but I am getting positive feedback from readers so far.
Here is a link to my fan page. I am new at this so please, tell me what it is I am doing wrong. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Virginia-Elisabeth-Farmer/141473507742?ref=nf
and a link to the information on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002MSDGWC .

Thank you for your time. Any helpful information would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Lizzie Farmer

Victoria Strauss said...

Lizzie,

You aren't doing anything wrong. However, checking your Facebook page, I see that you're self-published through Trafford.

Self-publishing is often touted as a viable alternative to commercial publishing--and for some people, in some circumstances, it can be. But self-publishing companies do very little in the way of marketing and distribution, and individual authors don't have access to the marketing and distribution channels that commercial publishers use. So it is a huge challenge for self-publishers just to get books into the hands of readers, never mind getting national review or media coverage.

Whether that's right or fair, it's just the way it is. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the quality of the book, its PC-ness, or anything else about the book. Quite simply, it's a problem of visibility and (in many cases) of perception, since self-published books are widely (and not necessarily fairly) perceived to be of lesser quality.

The problem is compounded by the explosion of self-publishing options, and the consequent explosion of self-published books. The commercial book industry produces vast numbers of books--but last year, self- and small-press-published books actually outnumbered them. As a self-published author, you're competing not just with commercially-published authors in your genre, but with all the other self-published authors as well--and you have almost no tools to help you do that.

As good as your book may be, as many celebrity endorsements as you may get for yourself, you're always going to be smacking up against the wall of marketing and distribution. This, unfortunately, is something that the self-publishing companies and the vanity publishing hucksters rarely tell their authors, and which authors who don't know it going in must find out for themselves.

Lizzie said...

Dear Victoria,

Thank you for your timely response. My late father would have heartily agreed with you. He was agianst self publishing. However, when I went to get my book illustrated, the artist highly recommended self publishing, specifically Trafford. I value his opinion as he works for Disney. So now I am on a hamster wheel and cannot get off. I will consider all your helpful advice. I just wish I'd listened to my father... and I am in my forties!!! Sometimes wiser, more experienced, parents are right.

-Lizzie